CHENNAI: It was in Southampton, on the eve of India’s fourth Test against England in 2018, when TOI caught up with Shane Warne. As a discussion on the Indian spin attack started, the legend asked: “Where is Kuldeep Yadav? Hope Virat is playing him here.” When told that the chinaman had already been sent back home, Warne couldn’t believe it. “They should play him whenever there is a hint of help, he is an asset,” Warne said.
Two and a half years have gone by since then and Kuldeep’s Test appearance stands at a dismal six, his last game being in Sydney in January 2019, where he got 5/99. The wrist-spinner has fallen down the pecking order with the consistent Ravindra Jadeja sealing his spot as the No. 2 spinner in the side after R Ashwin. But now, with Jadeja unavailable for the first two Tests against England in Chennai, there is an opportunity for the team management to play Kuldeep.
There has been talk that the Chepauk pitch, which hasn’t been used for more than a year, is wearing a greenish tinge. It’s a given, though, that much of the greenery will be reduced once the Indian team starts to practise. The Indian pacers were fantastic in Australia and there is the option of playing three pacers and two spinners, even though the norm in Chepauk is quite the opposite.
Left-arm finger spinner Axar Patel, who can keep things tight and can get decent bounce due to his height, has been brought in as a direct replacement for Jadeja in the squad. “On paper, he is a like for like substitution for Jadeja. But we don’t know if Axar is actually as effective as Jadeja, who gets a lot of zip off the pitch. Axar is more of a roller and he may not be as effective as Jadeja on a pitch which is not turning square,” Sunil Subramaniam, former India manager and a reputed spinner in his playing days, said.
Washington Sundar, too, was quite phenomenal in the historic Gabba Test, but it could be tough for him to find a place if Ashwin, who was injured in the same game, is 100 % fit. “It is a call that the team management will take after they assess the pitch. If it is a case of two spinners, I would prefer Kuldeep ahead of Axar,” former India leg spinner L Sivaramakrishnan told TOI.
The argument of the former spinners from Chennai is that on a good wicket for batting, Kuldeep should spell more trouble for the English batsmen than Axar. A good wrist spinner gives more time to the batsman in the air but it’s his subtlety in flight that troubles batsmen. “On a turner, that extra time in the air that Kuldeep gives could be like gold dust for English batsmen and they will take chances against him, something they may not get against somebody like Axar. A few runs here and there makes a huge difference on a turner, which isn’t the case on a good pitch,” Subramaniam explained.
It is this logic that prompted the Indian team management to play Kuldeep in the Lord’s Test in 2018, which proved to be wrong. The breeze was strong and the outfield was wet, making it difficult for Kuldeep to make an impact and the likes of Jos Buttler plundered him for runs. But those variables will be under control in Chennai and Kuldeep will provide the extra variation that is so essential to make an impact.
“Kuldeep has been under Ravi Shastri’s guidance for a long time and I am sure he is ready. I think it’s the nature of the pitch that will decide whether India decide to give Kuldeep a go,” Sivaramakrishnan said.
The final call, of course, will be with Virat Kohli and the three days of practice before the Test will decide whether the chinaman bowler gets his seventh Test match four years after his debut.